03.30.08

Franchise F.C.’s Moment Of Triumph

Posted in Football at 5:52 pm by

With all due respect to shorthanded Arsenal coming back from a two goal deficit to win at Bolton yesterday, 3-2, and the likes of jetlagged megastars David Beckham and Landon Donovan being humbled by Colorado in the Galaxy’s MLS Opener last night, the soccer story of the weekend might well be Milton Keynes Dons beating Grimbsy Town, 2-0, to take the…uh….Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Before anyone wonders if this piece of silverware is enough to raise a fuss about, keep in mind the victors are only a few years removed from being considered national pariahs after abandoning South London.  And not everyone has forgiven or forgotten, reports the Observer’s Jamie Jackson.

‘I don’t know anyone who’s changed their minds. MK Dons isn’t a football club – while they do seem to have created growth, let’s hope that’s a temporary blip before a downward spiral to oblivion,’ says Kris Stewart, the driving force behind AFC Wimbledon, who were formed by angry fans once the FA allowed owner/chairman Pete Winkelman to uproot the club in May 2002, and who now play in the Ryman Premier.

The hostility caused by the relocation was followed by a near-financial disaster that sparked a firesale of 11 players – including Nigel Reo-Coker – after administrators arrived in May 2003. The club were relegated the following season from the old First Division, before arriving in the basement league in 2006.

‘Its been a difficult birth,’ says Winkelman, who grew up as a Wolves fan. ‘Because I hadn’t been involved in football I didn’t know the horror of moving a club. But Luton have tried to move here at least three times in the past 30 years. For some it’s difficult to forgive, which I understand. And I certainly now would not want to move the club.

‘But on Wednesday I was telling Portsmouth’s chief executive, Peter Storrie, how we’re the biggest city in the region outside of London. We’re only 40 years old, and in 20 years time we’ll be among the 10 most populated places in the UK. We attract the highest proportion of under-16s for games at any League club. Some 200,000 people moved here, and began new families – it is an audience that will not come to fruition for another 10 years.’

Paul Kinge is one convert. The 20-year-old student, who will be at Wembley today, says he ‘used to watch Chelsea with my dad. It was £16 for both of us, but around 10 years ago prices suddenly rocketed. I was born in Milton Keynes and the Dons are my team. I have friends from school the same – some supported Spurs or Arsenal, but it’s at least £100 for the day. We went to see MK Dons at Accrington Stanley last Monday and it was £16. I can sympathise with Wimbledon fans, but AFC seem to be doing OK.’

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